Malaysia has the fifth greatest number of endemic Rhododendron taxa, a total of 53, with 22 of these species threatened with extinction. The representation of these taxa in ex situ collections is very low.
Rhododendron monkoboense (CR) was first collected in 1982 from Bukit Monkobo on Sabah and revisited during the Tree Flora of Sabah and Sarawak project expedition in 2005. This very rare endemic is at risk from stochastic events (Gibbs et al. 2011). Since rhododendrons are exceptional species, ex situ living collections and propagation techniques are extremely important for preserving the genetic diversity of these threatened species.
Despite the Covid-19 global pandemic conservation work to survey and collected this species was able to safely go ahead in late September 2020. A team from Kinabalu Parks and Beluran Forestry District Office surveyed the summit area where this species occurs and recorded 60 individuals, including 11 juveniles. A further 16 were seen in a deep gully below the ridge, but it was too dangerous to investigate more. The 76 plants located by the survey team is the total known global population of this species.
A planned training session to build the conservation horticultural skills of those in Malaysia, by horticultural staff from RBGE was unable to happen due to travel restrictions. A virtual session was arranged and delivered at the end of June 2021.
A smaller team returned Bukit Monkobo in July 2021 and were able to locate and retrieve seed capsules. These are with the Kinabalu Parks who are in the process of establishing the first and only ex situ collection of this species anywhere. It is hoped that they can be used to for population reinforcement in situ and maintained as ex situ insurance policy against a catastrophic event on Bukit Monkobo.
This conservation project is supported by BGCI and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, funded by Fondation Franklinia.